Friday, December 16, 2016

UN, Malawi to Use Drones in Food Aid Distribution
December 16, 2016

LONDON. — The UN children’s agency and Malawi’s government are teaming up to test whether drones could make aid delivery faster and more effective during humanitarian disasters, such as floods and droughts which affect millions of people every year.UNICEF said yesterday that experts would investigate how drones could be used to provide aerial imagery to help governments and aid agencies pinpoint where the most urgent needs are in crises.

They will also test the use of drones for making small deliveries such as emergency medical supplies, vaccines and samples for laboratory diagnosis.

“This is very exciting. We believe that drones have huge potential to help us respond more quickly in humanitarian emergencies,” said UNICEF’s head of innovation Cynthia McCaffrey.

The trials, likely to begin next April, will be carried out in a “humanitarian drone testing corridor” that will allow the unmanned aircraft systems to be tested over a distance of up to 40km outside Malawi’s capital Lilongwe.

Engineers will also investigate how drones could be used to extend Wi-fi or cellphone signals across difficult terrain.

Drones are already being tested for commercial deliveries in countries like the United States and New Zealand. But the testing corridor in Malawi is thought to be the first to focus on the use of drones in humanitarian operations and development work. The initiative could have a significant impact in Malawi, which is prone to floods and droughts. Forty percent of families in the southern African country currently rely on food aid.

In the future aerial imaging drones could help farmers boost harvests by identifying irrigation problems and monitoring soil variation, water content and plant health, UNICEF’s Malawi director Johannes Wedenig told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

— Reuters.

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